The Sacred’s Show
“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterday bear date with the moldering antiquities of rest of nation – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would no give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”
Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897.
One of India’s greatest gift to the humanity at large is its spiritual base. The spirituality of India having a distinct and separate voice of a religious India. Mark Twain foregrounded this aspect of India way back in 1897. But I go back even more in time when I pick from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali which is almost 2000 years old. In the compact 196 observations on the nature of consciousness and liberations the Yoga Sutra becomes increasingly relevant in contemporary times. Though brief, the Yoga Sutra manages to cut to the heart of the human dilemma. But this is one of the texts of Indian thought. We have in India innumerable texts which deal with the many aspects of India’s Spiritual ethos.
From the Vedas which is the wellspring of Indian wisdom, to the epics, like the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, to the Gita, the adoration of the bhakti poets the king of them all Jayadeva who with a single work the Gita Govinda brought in Sringara or pleasure into bhakti to a scale unparalled.
The spirituality of India has given the world philosophy, gyana or knowledge rasa or flavour, the concept of Shunya and Bindu and has transformed herself into a dizzying technological hub today of software, engineering, medicine and information technology.
From the pan Indian tradition of Vedic India where notions of aesthetics steps out from the precincts of vision and saundarya or beauty to the vast expanse of woven folk and tribal traditions, to contemporary fusions, India abounds in both.
From transcendental consciousness and perfect bliss to the shrunken soul , from the sublime mountains the kulaparvatas to the intoxicant globalized cities, India is a centre of lurid realities and unrealities where there exists a peaceful balance between the many fractures.
A nation which spans moments of time. From Alladin’s lamp and Tigers and Elephants, to mythic cultures and Cultural dialogues , From cultural transgressions, to religion bending , from ancient transcendental wisdom to new ageism. It is where tradition encounters modernity, where cultures fuse into newer ones , where identities do not progress along a simple, straight line; where the ancient and cyber- space coexist , local traditions and newly designed spaces collide, and they allow contemporary art production , spiritual healing and body work, folk art and handicrafts, cinema and pop to coexist. Where progress itself is more than the sum of advancement. Emerging as a multi-cultural, multi-traditional India, from a bowl of spiritual ideas, Buddhism, Gandhi Vedantic thought to the largest bowl of technological outsourcing , to consumer markets. Modern India is a nauseating wonder between poverty and riches, characterizing herself in this inherent duality and polarity of the spiritual and modern , India abounds in many moods and many flows.
The exhibition— The Sacred — will foreground the notions of philosophy, beauty, rituals and traditions, where spirituality becomes a way of life. It is in India bi polarity, duality multiple religions reside with complexity and simplicity.
Dr Alka Pande
Saptarishis – An Encounter with Steel
The first seven notes of flutes and lutes, Reveal the music in harmony without fail
India is singular.
India is plural.
India is cosmopolitan.
Yet India is also traditional, and it is this tension between the global and the local that makes her so very special. It is, in fact, this very cultural diversity of India that creates an unchallenged excitement in artistic production.
Myths, allegories, metaphors, are part of a continuing tradition and are very much embedded even in the contemporary thought processes of the artists. And it is this link with the evolved ancient past of the land which makes contemporary Indian art the ‘new’ flavour internationally.
Seven has always had a special space in the sacred geography of India. The seven mind born sons of Brahma (one of the holy Indian trinity) or the saptarishi guided the divine consciousness of the land. While the seven great Indian sages were unique in their individual capacities, they were simultaneously a part of the holistic ‘saptarishi’ force that synthesized and integrated their separateness without denying their individual identities, which in turn, were equally relevant and valid.
Interestingly, the number ‘Seven’ has a special significance in almost all sacred literatures and cosmologies in the world, with a special reference to the Vedic, Greek and Judaic traditions. Around the world ancient scriptures perceive it as the primordial symbol of manifestation, the sacred numerical representation of life, and according to E. W. Bullinger, the embodiment of “spiritual perfection.”
In Greek mythology we come across this number abundantly, be it in the seven attendants of Mars, or the seven sons and seven daughters of Niobe, or Phoebus’ seven-stringed lyre or the seven-rayed sun. Similarly, in ancient Indian we find our scriptures replete with examples of this sacred number. Seen in this context, the saptarishis, are not exclusive in being representatives of this ancient symbology. They are, in fact, in exalted company – the Sapta Loka- (the seven worlds), the Sapta Dvipa (the seven holy islands), the Sapta Samudra (the seven holy seas), the Sapta Parvatta (the seven holy mountains), the Sapta Arania (the seven deserts), the Sapta Vriksha (the seven sacred trees), the Sapta Pura (the seven holy cities), and even the 7 levels of human consciousness (physical, vital, mental, intellectual, super-mental, spiritual and Divine).
Always intrigued and engaged with Indian mythology and its direct co relation to indigenous wisdom I entered the domain of artistic production through the notions of the sacred seven in the year 2007. What could be a better encounter with Stainless Steel than through the purity of the medium and the purity of the spirit of seven ascetics.
For me my seven sculptors who I invited to experiment with a material they had not explored completely in its entirety became a wondrous experiment and the Saptarishis were re born.
Stainless Steel is aesthetically pleasing because it has a natural luster. A wide variety of finishes including satin, matt, and mirror polish, pearl, mosaic or linen texture, are available. The colour and texture chosen play a vital role in a work’s aesthetic appearance. Stainless Steel reflects light and colour from its immediate environment and thus blends with its surroundings in a harmonious manner.
Celebrating India’s encounter with the old and new, between the sacred and the profane, between tradition and modernity is the creative output of the seven contemporary saptarishis. They responded with a singular enthusiasm using Steel as a pigment in their respective languages. This time the encounter was explored through purity and fusion.
NN Rimzon, Pankaj Panwar, Valsan Koorma Kolleri, Karl Antao, Vivek Vilasini, Sumedh Rajendran, Shiv Verma responded to the medium and created special works stretching their personal vocabulary and creativity with this contemporary material – Stainless Steel.
Never before across geographies has there been a partnership between industry and art in the domain of Stainless Steel.
Thus this engagement with steel becomes a point of flight to an ongoing adventure with stainless Steel..
Dr. Alka Pande
Rajiv Puri’s Show
En Plein Air
I have been following Rajiv Puri’s work for the last many years and what I am particularly interested in are his mindscapes, both inner and outer. I am looking at the psychological inscapes where the surrealist, abstract, and the fantastic all play a role. Though the term inscape has been applied to stylistically diverse artworks, it generally conveys some notion of representing the artist’s psyche as a kind of interior landscape. The word inscape can therefore be read as a kind of portmanteau, combining interior (or inward) with landscape. And Rajiv is continuously ‘playing’ with his inscapes.
I find two constants in his work. His continuous engagement with the act of painting and his absorption with nature in its myriad moods and manifestations. From capturing the impressions of light, to the indelible moment ingrained in memory Rajiv’s paintings lead the viewer into an immersive experience.
In his latest body of work which he has titled ‘Wilderness” there are moments of pure experiential pleasure, of a reflective meditative sublimity, of a journey in time. His flat applications of oil paints have slowly evolved into sharper, more refined brush strokes. Colour for Rajiv becomes the vehicle of his own moods and the application a dialogue with himself.
What is interesting for the viewer or the ‘rasika’ is to be a distant ‘witness’ to the internal journey of the artist. And this is what I have enjoyed most. To watch Rajiv forging ahead in his artistic journey has always been a source of great delight to me personally. Every time he shows a new body of work, there is an evolvement of technique style and concepts.
In this body of work I find a parallel to the style of the artists who were part of the Barbizon school and the French Impressionist. They worked in natural light and embraced nature. Very much ‘en plein air’. En plein air is a French expression which means “in the open air”. It is used to describe the act of painting in the open air outside the closed spaces of indoor studios. For the English landscape artists the closest term was alfresco which has a similar meaning. Rajiv Puri’s current works are infused with the ‘en plein air’ and represent his ‘inscapes’ in his own personal vocabulary.
Dr. Alka Pande
Dr. Alka Pande, is an author and an independent Curator who lives and works out of New Delhi.
Alex Davis’s Show
The Stainless Gallery
At The Stainless, steel is used as a pigment. While art galleries across the world use different media, we at The Stainless are known for the singular use of steel. Steel is the brush, the idea, the paint, i.e. the tool, the muse and medium.
The Stainless also provides visual artists from within and outside India a platform for experimenting with not simply steel but also combining stainless steel with diverse materials. Beyond the gallery await a treasure trove of steel resources and infrastructural support adding an extra input to artists and designers who want to push the envelop of creativity. Under the wide, open skies of The Stainless a fertile and fecund soil await for a thousand flowers of creativity to bloom.
Steel speaks of past present and present future. One alloy which moves from the sacred to the profane from the personal to public spaces. From strength to mobility, from textures to form, steel presents any artist an exciting domain.
At The Stainless we travel many geographies of production from art, design to architecture.
In the global domain, where niche and specialization, multiplicity, multivocality and plural cultures are becoming increasing rare, The Stainless becomes increasingly relevant. It is the only gallery in India devoted to multidimensional artistic creation where stainless steel becomes the uniting thread of creativity.
The gallery is be a one stop destination, where at any given point there will be available for any visitor a range of art objects devoted to stainless steel to choose from.
We at the Stainless are open to ideas, suggestions, and are ready to embark on shared journeys of creativity.
Dr. Alka Pande
Regina Silveira’s Show
A Water Colouring Culture
“True modernism is freedom of mind, not slavery of taste. It is independence of thought and action, not tutelage under European schoolmasters. It is science but not its wrong application to life.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
A colourful jigsaw of cultures, Brazil is a country, which to us is enigmatic and alluring. The lion of the Latin America is virtually a mosaic of cultures. From the exciting soil of carnivals, the sun drenched beaches, the enormity of the dark Amazon to the stimulating rhythms and beats of samba, comes an exciting physical culture. A geography dotted with a multitude of ethnic groups that reeks of a breath which is pulsating, with a rare vigour.
A gigantic melting pot of different skin colours, flavours, sounds and ideas engaged from different parts of the globe, comes the more happy and a relaxed atmosphere. A natural wonder of mythic magnitudes, where a great many ethnic groups have assimilated with the indigenous.
To understand the works of Regina Silveira and Artur Luiz Piza, one has to be familiar with the main currents of western art, especially after Surrealism and Dadaism. Since the beginning, the movement (of Brazilian modernism) has been included in all spheres of arts, not just visual arts. It has changed literature, it has changed poetry, it has changed music, it has changed everything in the field of arts and of course, also in behaviour and attitude.
What really brought a lot of streams and trajectories into the mainstream was the advent of modernism, which affirmed the power to create and reshape the environment. Reforming the cultural movements in art, architecture, music and literature, modernism encouraged every aspect of existence, which changed all aspects of Brazilian art. A common visual language also having resonance of the sister cultures came into being. Conceptual art took a leap above the realism of pure painting and sculpture.
To introduce one of the contemporary trends in Brazilian contemporary art, it is relevant to place Regina Silveira as one of the representatives of Brazil’s prominent voices. A graduate in Visual Arts from Universidade do Rio Grande Do Sul, from the 1960’s Regina began to paint, draw and make prints, showing empathy with figurative expressionism with strong roots in the modernism of the country.
As an independent curator it became a challenge to write about the work of an artist who is truly a ‘global nomad’. Regina is literally inhabited by geographies across the globe, physically or through her work. One of the reasons being that her singular language crosses boundaries of ethnicity, identity, colour and languages. Here, language is that of an artist, as a craftsman, taking off from the mother of all art drawing. Regina in the ‘avataar’ of multimedia artists, explores a set of mediums from graphics to painting. And this is what makes her completely timeless and yet so contemporary. Like her colleague Artur Luiz Piza, who makes up the show ‘Brazilian Watercolours’, the two are bound together by yet another basic acme geometry. Regina in both the works ‘Lunar’ and ‘Double’ uses the geometry of architecture, astronomy and new media to create work which has to be experienced, to be understood. In the works, real spaces are included, spaces where she builds installations, as well as virtual spaces which are represented by conventional architectural drawings, which she says serves her as “motives for distortions and estrangements.” Her works literally works as a bridge between the different languages of art she employs. No newcomer to India, Regina Silveira’s works were last seen here at the 7th Triennial of India in New Delhi in 1991.
Dr. Alka Pande
Arthur Luiz Piza’s Show
A True Modernist
Who could be a better disseminator of Brazilian art in Europe and now in India than Artur Luis Piza. After settling in Paris since 1951, this painter-engraver has carved out his own refined singular language. Piza has explored engraving with beauty and elegance along with a post-surrealist figuration. Abandoning the post-surrealist figuration for a more abstract language, Piza began a journey in his art practice where lyricism and poetics are engaged in an intense dialogue.
In order to enter into Piza’s world, a dip into the beginnings of engraving becomes essential. The well-known art form of engraving is the age old practice of incising a design onto a hard, flat surface, the result of it being displayed in a decorative object in itself. Decoration is undeniably an ancient art form that is reflected in its inscriptions and antiquities. The magnitude of such embellishment indicated that they were not simply created with the sole purpose of adornment, but rather inspired by their vitality and intimate longing to articulate deep rhythms of life in a perceptible way. The ancient art of engraving was evident since the 1st Millennium BC, seen in the form of shallow groves in jewellery items. Coming to the early European Middle Ages, this art form was used to decorate and inscribe metal works, giving in to different line types. Engraving soon lost ground to etching, which was a much feasible technique for the artists to learn.
A highly universal language, Piza developed his own method using thick copper plates into which he carves and gouges shapes and lines intensely into the surface, a technique that is integrated – representing a unique amalgamation of engraving and etching. As quoted by him “To engrave, for me, it is to tear, cut, tear off a surface which resists.” Hegoes one step further when he says ‘my obsession lies with arranging and dis-arranging.’In this particular exhibition, Piza uses wires in a favourable field for arranging his forms, in varying depths and positions, constructing and deconstructing them in a given space, as if searching for something hidden. An art form that is not visible in the Indian Contemporary Art, Piza’s works are evolved and highly conceptual
Often Piza uses a goldsmith’s hammer to sculpt low reliefs which when printed on paper become high reliefs. He transforms the traditional method of engraving on metal and transmutes them on paper to meet the needs of his own language of poetics, yet never compromising on the traditional techniques of engraving itself. These art works embrace a change, that go along with the thinkers who rebelled against the “traditional” forms of art. A true modernist.
“Modernity exists in the form of a desire to wipe out whatever came earlier, in the hope of reaching at least a point that could be called a true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure.”
– Paul De Man
From the patient engraving of geometry, in Piza’s works to the bold journey of Regina with her decoupage of the space is like implementing with the two main tools like the moon, with the playing of light and dark, as the two artists create new spaces within the historical or even the most trivial spaces.
Dr. Alka Pande
Sumeet Inder Singh’s Show
While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see. ~Dorothea Lange
Gliltz, glamour, blitz, bling may be synonyms for fashion, but it is a lot of hard work and hard sell, sweat and steam that goes into making fashion shows what they are. Winner of India Habitat Centre Fellowship of Photography, 2004, Sumeet Inder Singh, makes a unique attempt to direct the gaze of his camera beyond the obvious, a sneak peek into the life and times beyond the fashion ramp.
A photograph is a secret about a secret. ~Diane Arbus
A photo-journalist currently based in New Delhi, Sumeet has been working for a well-known news magazine for the past several years. Apart from his assignments as a press-photographer, he has been pursuing several personal projects including a photo-documentary on the Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himalayan Buddhism and last but not the least one on Indian fashion industry.
“It has been almost four years since that day I first puzzled over what was happening ‘back there’ and two years have elapsed since I seriously started work on this project,” says Sumeet. “It has taken me from green rooms to fashion studios, from model’s hotel rooms to their party haunts, from the two-room ‘barsati’ of an aspiring designer to the multi-acre factory of an established one. The fashion industry supports lifestyles that range from the spectacularly glamorous to the achingly mundane,” he adds.
You don’t take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it.
Sumeet’s pictures borrow a moment in time from the lives of designers, models, choreographers, tailors, cutters, make-up artists, fashion students, fashion journalists…, all who get together to make the world of fashion go round. Documenting the individual stories of people, his work takes the viewer on a journey through the by-lanes of fashion industry documenting the buzz, the fervor, the hum and the din of world that lies hidden from the eye; the sweatshops and the snazzy sets that support the industry; all of which is intertwined to reveal the big picture – fashion industry in India, the glamour it projects, the hopes and dreams that it inspires, the hard work and toil it demands and the fame it may bring, as Sumeet puts it.
A good snapshot stops a moment from running away. -Eudora Welty
In an ongoing bid to providing a unique platform to showcase and promote photography, Visual Arts Gallery has been hosting some of the major photo exhibits of the country. It is also committed to supporting the work of one emerging photographer in the country, by offering India Habitat Centre Fellowship for Photography. Here we are happy to share with you a few delightful landmarks of the photographic journey of Sumeet Inder Singh, winner of the IHC Fellowship for Photography 2004.
Capturing these moments by acting as an observer-participant, Sumeet often becomes an element within the frame itself. His pictures, like those of many of his contemporaries, are deeply subjective. Authoring and stamping his work with his gaze as a signature, Sumeet is undoubtedly a fresh young voice of contemporary India.
Dr. Alka Pande
George Martin’s Show
Promising Artist Award 2005 (Catalogue)
“Every man’s memory is his private literature.” – Aldous Leonard Huxley
A recurring leitmotif in George Martin’s visual language, memory becomes the muse for his image imaging. A boy from the small town of Angamaly, near Cochin, George Martin has inhaled the charm of small town upbringing, rich in a unique language and culture. He has moved from Trivandrum to Kolkatta, in pursuit of his formal training in Art. Finally coming to roost in the vibrant, complex, city of migrants New Delhi. In this process, yet another dimension was added to his visual language.
In 2005, George won the prestigious Art India and the India Habitat Award for the Most Promising Artist, that George Martin at an incredibly young age got an opportunity to create for the sake of creativity along.
For one long year Martin was hardly seen in the newly buoyant market of contemporary art. And when he emerged with his solo show at the Visual Arts Gallery of the India Habitat Centre in May 2007 – artists, collectors, art lovers came in droves to see the paintings and sculptures created by George Martin in this period of hiatus from the art world.
George Martin created a sensation with the large almost phantasmorghial, refractive, fading in and fading out images soaked in colour. A riot, a mutiny of colours confronted the viewer at close quarters, but while moving away from the canvas, shapes, forms, compositions, landscapes emerged almost like the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia, a writer he loves.
Refractive, as if captured through the concave and convex lens of the human eye or that moment caught in the in between spaces of refraction. The paintings almost explode with the intensity of colour. With the unaffected social, religious or moral norms that exist, his works bring to light the solitary confinement by recalling moments that were memorable, yet mysterious. The paintings reflect George Martin’s confrontation with urban life, with a life which has been in some ways corroded by globalisation. From bandwallah’s to rickshaw pullers in an urban setting, the constant to and fro in his mindspace, from his small time village to the big city he lives in is constantly questioned. A highly refined eye, a mind that is constantly in search, a spirit which is looking at the multiple identities within his body, George Martin is navigating an extremely lush landscape.
From the cinema he saw in the film clubs in Kerala and the libraries he raided as a young child emerges a powerful narrative which is so global and cosmopolitan, and yet the inherent ‘Indian’ colour palette is celebrated with a rare sophistication and the headrush of colours.
It is a nostalgia of ethos, events, constantly digging into the abundant reservoir of moments in time and space. It is not calm. There is a constant movement and bustle, rhythmic strokes that are symbolic of the city dwellers.
Permanently shifting to Delhi has bought about a new side to migration, not just geographically but also in a way of life. His thoughts and ideas express the notion of passage, pointing towards the historical resistance to the fixed customs and traditions that are figurative of the native land. It is a dual perspective, more like ‘give-and-take’ of cultural exchange.
“A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed…It feels an impulsion…this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.”
– Richard Bach
If the artist draw their inspiration from other art, there would be in a constant spiral of thoughts and stagnation. George Martin’s world is highly open and is formed by the world of films and literature, which play a major role in his artistic sculptures and paintings.
Bringing his inspiration from the Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi, who works under an artistic doctrine by incorporating direct cinema into the narrative as a way of conveying realism and highlighting the many contemporary social issues, within the limited creative freedom of the Poland. Just like the noted filmmaker, there is an inner passion to reflect a universal truth on the nature of human existence. There is a need for a personal balance and the inextinguishable human pursuit for enlightenment. As quoted by Zanussi, “Going against the wall: I realized that I would have to fight for my films — to defend my artistic freedom.”
Deriving inspiration from Zanussi’s cinematic expression, George Martin too evolves a translucent role play. Contrasts, illusions abound in the paintings. Another trajectory of his work can also be decoded through reading the captions he places for his works be they sculptures or paintings. The captions by itself are self-explanatory and capture the complexity of his works. The four sculptures and the sixteen paintings all reflect his present engagement.
What makes George’s language truly global, international and cosmopolitan, is the range of references in literature and visual expression. From Pieter Bruegel in ‘Blind leads Blind’ to the Italian metaphysical artist Georgio de Chirico to ‘Drizzling Memory’, ‘Uncertainty of the Poet’ and the ‘Concave Breath’ which belong to his autobiographical text. ‘Drizzling Memory’ taking him back to the fascination with his father’s bed in his ancestral house in Angamaly and ‘Concave Breath’ which becomes a cathartic experience when he encounters the urban chaos and pressures of trying to find a home and an identity in a metropolis.
Through the process of creating these works, George Martin seeks a meaning and an identity within his own past and at the same time, endeavours to make sense of the ambiguities and contradictions of present-day culture. The paintings and sculptures have come about from an ongoing study on how personal and cultural meanings are formed and expressed, on how there is an interesting parallel between the two.
Dr. Alka Pande
Rupa Arupa’s Show
I dive into the sea of forms (rupa), hoping that I may come upon the gem of the formless (arupa – the absolute Brahman) – Rabindranath Tagore
One of the main points of reference of Oriental art is that traditional Indian art is embedded in the mind and soul whereas the Occidental approach is one of optics or visuality. In the earliest pictorial representations of visual arts in India, the two driving tools of Indian aesthetics are moksha (Hindu) and nirvana (Buddhist).’Both signify liberation, the highest goal of existence. Therefore, religion, life and art are inextricably intertwined. This state of liberation is equated with the state of anandam (pure bliss). This journey from rupa (form) to arupa (formless) chit (consciousness) to chetna (enlightnment) akin to pure anandam or bliss. Art and aesthetics have been understood as a means to traverse this distance and so the goals saundarya (beauty) and anandam (bliss) are closely associated.
On the other hand the visual language of Indian art is also representative of the multivocality of the land itself. Sculptural and painterly Indian art has always been thought to be centering around the human figure where form and body plays an extremely significant role.
As in most traditional cultures, visual symbols become powerful means of relaying religious and social ideals. Each piece of art in addition to being an object of beauty carries its own historical and spiritual significance. Stupas and temples employed a profound symbolic language based on visual representations of all major philosophical concepts. These included the Chakra the wheel of time used to symbolize movement; the Padma the lotus, the prime symbol of creation; Swastika representing the fourfold aspects of creation and motion; the Kalpalata and Kalpavriksha the wish-fulfilling creeper, tree representing immortality and Linga and Yoni male and female fertility symbols. Among-the many analyzed spiritual symbols are simple symbols like sun, wheel, lotus; complex symbols like maya(veil-illusion); and iconic symbols like those related to Hindu or Buddhist Gods. Later rules evolved to provide additional symbolic content through mudras or hand gestures of sculptured deities
While in India the sacred and the profane have always co existed side by side, it is this very duality in mind and thought which has always dogged the Indian Art Practice. What gave birth to India’s artistic tradition remains a complex question for most western analysts. Unlike the classical Greek human form that was based on the flawless, perfect human; Indian sculptural panels appeared to be arbitrary collections of strange juxtapositions of primitive beliefs and superstitions. This is not to say that Indian spirituality was always free from superstitions or arbitrary constructs, but in the best of the sculptural panels, there was always a conscious attempt to convey powerful philosophical ideas. This unique spiritual vein in Indian art has continued unsnapped throughout history and has also found a contemporary voice.
The flip side of the Indian spiritual and religious journey has been the subaltern voice of the folk and tribal, and it is in these spaces that abstraction of form finds its strong visual representation. The murals of warli, the bhitichitra of Madhya Pradesh, their depiction of nature, environment, their folk themes have always had a strong leaning to abstraction.
While at one level the artist has worked as an illustrator to religious texts in manuscripts in wall paintings, basically producing icons for worship, at another level form and the formless or the nirguna1 aspect of bhakti has always been vested in the abstract language.
In contemporary India Abstraction is being re visited with the contemporary artist developing his/her own language of expression. Materials are being constantly added to the abstract vocabulary, enhancing it enriching it and taking it to a more personal level.
This exhibition is an attempt to explore the multiple domains of abstract art, either thematically or materially, taking the figurative into the realm of the abstract and engaging with the viewer at a more personal more auto biographical level.
This transition of Indian art from the traditional to the modern has been an adventurous journey. From the spiritual to the experiential, the underpinnings of abstract thoughts whether in the shunya, bindu or the triangle, geometry has always been the hand maiden of the artist.
Dr. Alka Pande
Mukesh Sharma’s Show
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
— Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1869)
Mukesh Sharma explores the diachronic issue of displacement within human geographies in one or many cultures, within gender, within the self. From Jaipur to Mexico, across the great borders of cross cultural landscapes, Mukesh Sharma’s paintings continue a dialogue within a socio-political context that addresses luminal spaces. His paintings foreground the notion that the traveller is in a state of ‘in betweens’, an idea which finds its voice also in the virtual world.
The paintings signify a process that begins with the “exodus” from one place to another condition either willingly or unwillingly, physically or spiritually.
Displacement, the cultural construction of personhood in social stratification, comfort, conformation and confinement are some of the subject matters that Mukesh wishes to bring about in his work.
He places his practice at the heart of the main issues of contemporary culture through a critical trajectory. He uses his knowledge of art against all odds — as an instrument of cultural survival.
The vibrancy of colours are symptomatic of the land he lives in and the paintings are a doppleganger of his cultural background. In the art works is the duality of the received tradition and the encountered tradition. He uses the language of the popular to inform the viewer of social consciousness of the terrain he walks upon.
Mukesh’s compositions are crowded with people, yet there seems to be no one in them. The works are figurative and focus on the negotiation between representation and abstraction. Both culturally and geographically, he blends the vocabularies of art from his journeys in India, Australia and Mexico.
All of his work is made in direct relationship to the spatial qualities of the ground they are painted on. Each art work has resulted from the ongoing investigations into how personal and cultural meanings are formed and expressed. He has a strong interest in counter-cultures and the way they are visually represented. From the political to the recreational the painting becomes the signifier of self-determination and a development of aesthetics in tune with the aspirational.
The landscape paintings with varied styles, with humans, tourist memorabilia, symbols of material and artificial culture wrestle with each other. Infusing a rare vitality into the large acrylic canvases.
He does not consider painting in terms of representing the object world or of social values. However his attempt through his art is also to be part of nature, not imitating it, but stimulating it. He believes that painting should be pure, since it has its own life, autonomous and not an illustration.
Across the geographical boundaries, Mukesh strongly believes in sensing a similarity in the difference, seeing the way things may fit together, work in harmony or contribute towards building a dialogue.
Dr. Alka Pande
Avijit Dutta’s Show
Gallery Art Positive
The young Kolkata master Avijit Dutta, has been constantly engaged with the celebration of the feminine. Whatever may be his image of portrayal, in his work lie the many facets and moods of sensuality. The modes and nuances in sensuality, the reading of which as expressed by Avijit Dutta, are embedded in the Indian notions of Lávanyá. Lávanyá emerges from the ‘Shadanga’ or the six limbs of Indian art. ‘Shadanga’ lays a prominence on the basic structure or language of a work of art, written in consonance with the liturgical texts.
The chitrasutra of the Vishnudharmottara is one of the first canons of Indian painting, an oral tradition, which was penned around the 5th Century A.D. According to the chitrasutra, paintings are the greatest treasure of mankind, as they have a beneficial influence on the viewer. Being the oldest treatise on art in the world, it states that fine paintings are meant to have a deep effect upon the lives of the people.
In this exhibition, the essence of Lávanyá is the invocation of the feminine form.
Lávanyá-yojana, an essential limb of Indian art states that the artist must know how to define a chitra, imparting beauty to the figures. All figures in artistic production must possess their characteristic features. The Vishnudharmmottara-Purana states, “a painting which has not the proper position (sthana) or the rasas, are empty to look at and devoid of life-movement (Cetana) is said to be inexpressive”.
Lávanyá is possible through in a picture, which expresses some ‘rasa’ through its limbs such as the eyes. It describes the inner beauty of the matured soul, the quality of whichcan only be manifested in one who has destroyed the inner negativities. The beauty of such a person shines like a lovely radiance in the face and beams as spiritual power from the eyes. It also describes the qualities of the Divine Mother, who rules the universe.
And Avijit has mastered the essence of Lávanyá.
Dr. Alka Pande
Seema Kohli’s Show
“Hiranya Garbha Purusha Pradhana Avyakta Rupine
Om Namah Vaasudevaye Shudh Gyan Svarupine”
I bow to Him, the one with the golden womb, who is both the eternal soul and the nature (Prakriti), the subtle and hidden.
I bow to Lord Vasudev, who has the form of pure knowledge (or who is seen through knowledge that is pure).
Myths and legends in different cultures across continents celebrate and validate the varied and diverse aspects of women. Beauty, grace and charm, the classical attributes that make the quintessential feminine woman, have led to them being divine or semi-divine beings.
Feminine beauty has been celebrated across the ages. Through the period and all over the world, the feminine form has been adored, loved and worshipped. The woman is either in the realm of the goddess or in the form of celestial maidens as the apsaras. She is the emblem of sexuality, sensuality and eternal love.
A woman dons numerous faces – a young girl, a submissive wife, a giving mother, a fiery enchantress, a lover possessed. She is the ageless woman who is portrayed in Indian literature as the pious Sita, the sensuous and seductive Mohini, the fierce Kali, the goddess of plenitude – Lakhshmi, the stupendous Durga and the lovelorn Radha.
In Greek mythology, springing from the primordial chaos, the woman is Gaia, the Earth, the supporter. In Chinese mythology, she is familiar as Hu-tu; in Mesopotamian culture, she is acknowledged as Ninhursag. The Romans celebrated her as the Goddess Minerva, the Goddess of arts and crafts.
Sexuality permeates all of human life, a kind of an energy that emanates from a certain space in the body and causes specific physiological reactions. Getting a glance at the feminine world with its inherent complexities and contradictions, the women are often depicted as objects of desire, the icons of fertility. As the first creative stirring of an ineffable ultimate reality, whose trace can be felt in all forms of life and death, the goddess Kali as desire, embodies all creativity, owing to her dual nature of motherliness and wild fierceness.
Goddess Durga, worshipped as the fertile womb of the world, giving birth to all life. She is the reflection and manifestation of supreme beauty and deadly power. She is the shakti, the cosmic energy, the divine force that cannot be destroyed. At the same time, Durga is full of affection and love. She supports, sustains and nurtures life while the man, the masculine principle, implants the seeds of creation, contained in the seminal fluid. It is the female anatomy that is the location where the seed of life unites and burst forth as an entity itself.
Mohini, a goddess with supernatural beauty is beautiful in a manner no woman could be, a fantastic version of feminity. Trying to possess this impossibly beguiling ‘woman’ is what drove men mad.
Goddess Parvati with her charming personality, is adored by many married women for a happy married life.
As Venus was represented by the Greeks to stand forth as the type of the beauty of woman, so the Hindus describe the Padmini or Lotus woman as the type of most perfect feminine excellence. Her face is pleasing as the full moon, her body, well clothed with flesh, is soft as the Shiras or mustard flower, her skin is fine, tender and fair. Coming from the four classes of women, the ancient sage Vatsyayana focuses on how they become the subject to love.
Radha’s splendour of her youth and enchanting beauty has been an inspiration for songs and dances over the centuries.
It is from this domain of sacred feminine geography that an effulgence of energy emanates from the paintings of Seema Kohli’s. Myth, memory and imagination have become the handmaiden of her own artistic oeuvre. Within the genres of sexuality and desire, one can’t ignore the parallel journeys of discovery that she has made in the more experimental media. Seema Kohli’s works reveal a claiming of feminine subjectivities, an altered concept of feminine sexuality. It brings into focus a woman’s physical attributes, her intellect, thought, her dreams and realities. There is a celebration of beauty, sensuality and intimacy in her art.
Seema Kohli as an artist digests and imbibes all these ideas. Being a student of philosophy, she has inhaled and experienced myriad notions of existence, her lived reality, her emotional reality and her psychological reality.
Her work validates in different mediums in the past eighteen years, some constant being the search for the self, creativity and destruction. The celebration of life itself in its tumultuous journey – birth, creation, sensuality and desire.
To express this she has used different mythological figures that fascinated her. The most recent engagement has been that of the ‘Hiranya garbha’ Though the Golden Womb series evolved from a mantra of Yajur Veda, but it simply evolved in reflecting the quite and subtle beauty of constant procreation. All the works are a prayer to the eternal self – a way of meditation. These works are spiritual but not religious, exploring with it a poetically elegant and richly sensuous female form.
The productive and reproductive powers of nature have often been symbolised by people in world history, the most familiar being the sacred function of motherhood. For many minds, the womb has seemed an especially suggestive emblem in the nature’s reproductive principles on the macrocosmic scale.
The ancient Hindu mythology presents a number of accounts pertaining to the cosmology. Several explanations have been given as regards to the origin of the universe and its formation. The most popular belief is that the universe emerged from Hiranya garbha, meaning the ‘golden womb’. Hiranya garbha floated around in water in the emptiness and the darkness of its non-existence. Ultimately, this golden egg had split and the cosmos was created. Swarga emerged from the golden upper part of the Hiranya garbha, whereas Prithvi (earth) came out from the silver coloured lower half part.
The ‘Golden Womb’ is a celebration through which the supremacy of a female is established and how she procreates and keeps the journey of life, forever on. Her work is symbolic of the progress and recycling of thought processes in the human mind, which is being seen as calmer, more mature and more serene both in terms of palette and form. All her works are a gesture of the divine, a prayer to the eternal self, a way of meditation.
Coupled with myth and memory, innumerable tales describe the feminine, there are the goddesses who strike their children with fever, nymphs who seduce sages, celestial virgins who run free in forests and chaste wives who fling themselves on funeral pyres to become guardians feminine virtue. In the domain of the ‘Riti Kalin Kavya’, medieval Bhakti poetry and ‘Saundarya Lahiri’, the feminine has been adored, loved and worshipped. The pursuit of external beauty is narrated, where verses on women described them as a haunting melody and glorious sunset.
The Indian woman today is proud of her feminity and aware of her power. She reveals in it, and most of all – asks her male companion to acknowledge her special needs as being equally as important as his.
As we scroll through the world map, desire, erotic pleasure finds an important and significant emphasis in the cultural ethos of all ancient civilizations. This exhibition attempts to address the celebration of sensuality, which has been part and parcel of the Indian consciousness since the dawn of civilizations. Through the works of Seema Kohli, the exhibition attempts to address the continuous mappings of sensuality, sexuality and desire.
“Profound thought was the pillow of her couch,
Vision was the unguent for her eyes.
Her wealth was the earth and Heaven”
Dr. Alka Pande
Murali Cheeroth and Binoy Varghese’s Show
The exhibition Touch Retouch’ attempts to explore the artist’s own engagement with their mental landscapes and the materials that they use to translate and represent their own personal language.
The constant leitmotif in the work of Murali and Binoy is their common muse, that of the popular, of the everyday, of the here and now. Images which they take from the industrial medium – of photography, of cinema, of the digital.
Using these industrialised mediums as the basic iconography of their work, the two artists then go back and reframe and use the processes of translation, transliteration, transmutation of the popular image.
Their work is not of abstract; rather it comes out from the real tactile world that they inhabit. Based on the everyday popular culture of the built environment, their anxieties, engagements, trials, tribulations, highs and lows, challenges, dynamism, makes them go back to the images which are framed.
The images are not just based on what they saw, but there is a re touching of the images through their aspirations and emotions that highlights the core of their work.
It is in this process of ‘framing and refraining’ of ‘touching and retouching’ that Murali and Binoy foreground their own language or their modes of representation.
The two artists have been trained and nurtured under the common geographical boundaries of Kerala. With their shared vision each has a distinct style, celebrating ‘differences’, each work resulting from an ongoing investigation into how personal and cultural meanings are formed and expressed.
Dr. Alka Pande
THE PAINTER, THE ARTIST AND THE MUSE
Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks
There is no argument over the historical fact that man expressed himself through images before he learnt to write. Whether it was the evocative drawings in the Caves of Altamira in Spain or Lascaux in France or the paintings excavated in the Caves of Bhimbhetka in India, man expressed his innermost desires, fears and emotions through images. And when he learnt to write the text became the handmaiden of writers, thinkers poets and philosophers. And slowly over time there was a marriage between the two. This holy alliance between the two has survived from the time of the early Christain Byzantine art in the form of the earliest illuminate manscripts like the Vatican Vergil and the Vienna Genesis, while closer home the first illuminated manuscripts were seen on palm leaves. Buddhist texts especially sacred to the Vajrayana school were some of the finest and earliest examples of the Indian illustrated manuscripts.
This incestuous relationship between text and image in its most evocative manifestation is seen in the works of the English poet William Blake. The two strange bedfellows often walked hand in hand synergizing each other and enriching each other.
“The painter’s vision is not a lens, it trembles to caress the light,” Lowell writes in his poem Epilogue, which looks to painting for an insight into the technical challenge of poetic accuracy. Ever since the Roman poet Horace penned down in his Ars Poetica (c. 13 BC) the dictum “ut pictura poesis”–“as is painting, so is poetry”— painting and poetry have been regarded as two sides of the same coin.. While literature is associated with the demands or needs of the print medium, the media for visual art expresses feelings through lines and colours.
And this is exactly what Andaaz-e Bayaan Aur is. A virtual meeting ground of text and image infused with a lyricism which only Ghalib can evoke. Ghalib who created a sensation with his writings both in Urdu and Persian is feted more so after his death. And in a way Sabia’ s exhibition is not merely a homage to a poet who like many others before and after his time never got their due in their life time, it is the re reading of a poet through the eyes, mind and heart of a contemporary aritst.
Through her assured brushwork, Sabia draws, paints, translates the emotions of the classical Urdu poet Ghalib. The vibrancy of colour, the scale of paintings and the classical compositions are reclaiming the power of the word on the canvas.
Andaaz-e Bayaan Aur is special in a way that in this exhibition we see the languages of two artists finding a common geography of a perfect harmony and balance. The refinement of Ghalib’s poetry, the cerebral metaphysical quality in his writings has been flawlessly captured by Sabia’s brush.
“I have attempted not only to unite my paintings to Ghalib’s life and his poetry through different colours but also to explore a new language so that these paintings don’t remain mere translations. These paintings are not just visual depictions of his verses but also reflections of both the culture of his times and the spirit of his being. Hence both poetry and artistry form an integral part of my work.”
Dr. Alka Pande